|Mathews v. Lucas
[ Blackmun ]
[ Stevens ]
Mathews v. Lucas
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND
MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The reason why the United States Government should not add to the burdens that illegitimate children inevitably acquire at birth is radiantly clear: we are committed to the proposition that all persons are created equal. The Court's reason for approving discrimination against this class -- "administrative convenience" -- is opaque and insufficient: opaque because the difference between this justification and the argument rejected in Jimenez v. Weinberger, 417 U.S. 628, is so difficult to [p517] discern; insufficient because it unfairly evaluates the competing interests at stake.
Jimenez involved a requirement that the wage earner must have contributed to the support of his illegitimate child prior to the onset of his disability; this case involves the requirement that the deceased wage earner was contributing to the support of his illegitimate child at the time of his death. The critical objections to the classification held invalid in Jimenez apply with equal force in this case.
The classification in Jimenez was "overinclusive" because it conclusively presumed that all legitimates and some illegitimates were dependent on the disabled wage earner when many such persons were not in fact dependent. Since legitimate as well as illegitimate children are sometimes abandoned by their father before his death, precisely the same objection applies to this statutory classification. Moreover, the Jimenez classification was "underinclusive" because it conclusively excluded some illegitimates who were in fact dependent on the wage earner. [n1] In this case, the two appellee children [p518] were conclusively excluded from the class of eligibles even though they had been supported by their father for 15 years and eight years, respectively. If the underinclusiveness of the Jimenez classification was arbitrary, this classification is even more objectionable, because it attaches greater weight to support at a particular moment in time than to support of several years' duration.
In Jimenez, the Secretary told the Court that the classification was "designed only to prevent spurious claims." Id. at 633. The Court held that objective insufficient to justify "the blanket and conclusive exclusion" of a subclass of illegitimates. Id. at 636. The statute has not changed, but now we are told that the justification for a similar blanket and conclusive exclusion is "administrative convenience." I suggest that this is merely a different name for the same federal interest. For the statutory classification will not affect the processing of claims in any way except by substituting a mechanical test of dependency for the kind of inquiry that would otherwise be required to differentiate between the spurious and the genuine.
I am unable to identify a relevant difference between Jimenez and this case.
The Court recognizes
that the legal status of illegitimacy, however defined, is, like race or national origin, a characteristic determined by causes not within the control of the illegitimate individual, and it bears no relation to the individual's ability to participate in and contribute to society.
Ante at 505. For that reason, as the Court also recognizes,
"imposing disabilities on the illegitimate child is contrary to the basic concept of our system that legal burdens should bear some relationship [p519] to individual responsibility or wrongdoing."
Ibid. Thus, the Court starts its analysis from the premise that the statutory classification is both "‘illogical and unjust.'" Ibid. It seems rather plain to me that this premise demands a conclusion that the classification is invalid unless it is justified by a weightier governmental interest than merely "administrative convenience."
The Court has characterized the purpose of the statute as providing benefits not for those individuals who had a legitimate claim to support from the deceased wage earner, but rather for those who were actually dependent on the wage earner at the time of his death. In this analysis, the provisions of the statute which allow certain classes -- such as legitimate children -- to receive benefits without showing actual dependency are no more than statutory presumptions in aid of administrative convenience. This is an appropriate reading of the statute. [n2]
The Court goes on, however, to hold that such presumptions in aid of "administrative convenience" are permissible so long as the lack of precise equivalence between the fact giving rise to the presumption and the fact presumed "does not exceed the bounds of substantiality tolerated by the applicable level of scrutiny," ante at 509. The opinion tells us very little, however, about the "applicable level of scrutiny." It is not "our most exacting scrutiny," ante at 506; on the other hand, if the classification derives "possibly rational" support from another source, it is not "inherently untenable" simply because it rests in part on illegitimacy. Ante at 505. I believe an admittedly illogical and unjust result [p520] should not be accepted without both a better explanation and also something more than a "possibly rational" basis.
The Court has repeatedly held that distinctions which disfavor illegitimates simply because they are illegitimate are invalid. Gomez v. Perez, 409 U.S. 535; Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 406 U.S. 164. However irrational it may be to burden innocent children because their parents did not marry, illegitimates are nonetheless a traditionally disfavored class in our society. Because of that tradition of disfavor, the Court should be especially vigilant in examining any classification which involves illegitimacy. For a traditional classification is more likely to be used without pausing to consider its justification than is a newly created classification. Habit, rather than analysis, makes it seem acceptable and natural to distinguish between male and female, alien and citizen, legitimate and illegitimate; for too much of our history, there was the same inertia in distinguishing between black and white. But that sort of stereotyped reaction may have no rational relationship -- other than pure prejudicial discrimination [n3] -- to the [p521] stated purpose for which the classification is being made.
In this case, the "true" classification, according to the Court, is one between children dependent on their fathers and children who are not so dependent. All of the subsidiary classifications (which have the actual effect of allowing certain children to be eligible for benefits regardless of actual dependency) are supposedly justified by the increased convenience for the agency in not being required in every case to determine dependency. But do these classifications actually bear any substantial relationship to the fact of dependency?
In this statute, one or another of the criteria giving rise to a "presumption of dependency" exists to make almost all children of deceased wage earners eligible. If a child is legitimate, he qualifies. If the child is illegitimate only because of a nonobvious defect in his parents' marriage, he qualifies. If a court has declared his father to be in fact his father, or has issued an order of support against his father, or if the father has acknowledged the child in writing, he qualifies. Apart from any of these qualifications, if the child is lucky enough to live in a State which allows him to inherit from his intestate father on a par with other children, he also qualifies. And in none of these situations need he allege, much less prove, actual dependency. Indeed, if the contrary fact is undisputed, he is nevertheless qualified.
The Court today attempts, at some length, to explain that each of these factors is rationally and substantially related to the actual fact of dependency, adopting even the somewhat tenuous rationalization of the District Court that
"[m]en do not customarily affirm in writing their responsibility for an illegitimate child unless the [p522] child is theirs and a man who has acknowledged a child is more likely to provide it support than one who does not,"
ante at 514, without also noting that a man who lives with a woman for 18 years, during which two children are born, who has always orally acknowledged that the children are his, and who has lived with the children and supported them, may never perceive a need to make a formal written acknowledgment of paternity. Even more tenuous is the asserted relationship between the status of the illegitimate under state intestacy law and actual dependency. The Court asserts that,
in its embodiment of the popular view within the jurisdiction of how a parent would have his property devolve among his children in the event of death, without specific directions, such legislation also reflects to some degree the popular conception within the jurisdiction of the felt parental obligation to such an "illegitimate" child in other circumstances, and thus something of the likelihood of actual parental support during, as well as after, life.
Ante at 514-515. That nebulous inference upon inference is treated as more acceptable evidence of actual dependency than proof of actual support for many years. [n4]
Whether the classification is expressed in terms of eligible classes or in terms of presumptions of dependency, the fact remains that legitimacy, written acknowledgments, or state law make eligible many children who are no more likely to be "dependent" than are the children in appellees' situation. Yet, in the name of "administrative convenience," the Court allows these survivors' benefits to be allocated on grounds which have [p523] only the most tenuous connection to the supposedly controlling factor -- the child's dependency on his father.
I am persuaded that the classification which is sustained today in the name of "administrative convenience" is more probably the product of a tradition of thinking of illegitimates as less deserving persons than legitimates. The sovereign should firmly reject that tradition. The fact that illegitimacy is not as apparent to the observer as sex or race does not make this governmental classification any less odious. It cannot be denied that it is a source of social opprobrium, even if wholly unmerited, or that it is a circumstance for which the individual has no responsibility whatsoever
A fair evaluation of the competing interests at stake in this litigation requires affirmance of the judgment of the District Court.
I respectfully dissent.
Even if children might rationally be classified on the basis of whether they are dependent upon their disabled parent, the Act's definition of these two subclasses of illegitimates is "overinclusive" in that it benefits some children who are legitimated, or entitled to inherit, or illegitimate solely because of a defect in the marriage of their parents, but who are not dependent on their disabled parent. Conversely, the Act is "underinclusive" in that it conclusively excludes some illegitimates in appellants' subclass who are, in fact, dependent upon their disabled parent. Thus, for all that is shown in this record, the two subclasses of illegitimates stand on equal footing, and the potential for spurious claims is the same as to both; hence, to conclusively deny one subclass benefits presumptively available to the other denies the former the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the due process provision of the Fifth Amendment.
417 U.S. at 637.
2. There are other survivors who receive benefits only if they show dependency, e.g., parents, 42 U.S.C. § 402(h), and widowers, 42 U.S.C. § 402(f).
3. Such pure discrimination is most certainly not a "legitimate purpose" for our Federal Government, which should be especially sensitive to discrimination on grounds of birth.
Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are, by their very nature, odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.
Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 100. From its inception, the Federal Government has been directed to treat all its citizens as having been "created equal" in the eyes of the law. The Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
And the rationale behind the prohibition against the grant of any title of nobility by the United States, see U.S.Const., Art. I, § 9, cl. 8, equally would prohibit the United States from attaching any badge of ignobility to a citizen at birth.
4. If the relationship between an entitling presumption and the actual fact of dependency is so nebulous that the conclusion can be supported only by resort to a supposed popular conception within a jurisdiction, the classification must either be irrational or serve a purpose other than the one by which it is assertedly justified.